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USFSP solar-powered garage turned on, largest in Florida

One of the largest solar panel arrays in Florida was turned on for the first time Wednesday at the USF St. Pete campus. 

Activated at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the new solar panel array on top of the 5th Avenue south parking garage will be the first of its kind in the state, storing energy in a battery developed by Tesla Motors.

The project has been in the works for just under a year, and includes roughly 7,100 square feet of 318 panels, which now supplies power to the garage, including its elevators, lighting and two electric car charging stations. Any extra power will be stored and added to the power grid. 

Last September, $1 million was awarded to the project’s research by Duke Energy through the SunSense grant. As part of the grant, Duke Energy installed a 100-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. 

Duke Energy and the researchers at USFSP are hoping to discover different ways leftover energy can be stored for later use and study how long that energy will keep.  

According to NASA, photovoltaic systems are composed of three parts: cells, modules and arrays. The cell is constructed of a semiconductor, like silicon, that has been formed into a thin slide and treated to have a positive electric charge on one side and a negative charge on the other.

Sunlight shining on the cell excites electrons in the semiconductor material which in turn creates an electrical circuit that can be captured and stored for use. Cells are wired together to form a module and multiple modules form an array. 

Although Florida’s nickname is the sunshine state, Florida ranks only 10th in utility-level solar power use. This may change after Duke Energy completes its 10-year plan to install 500 megawatts of utility-level solar arrays. According to WUSF, five megawatts of solar power will be added to the power grid by the end of this year and 30 more megawatts will be added by the end of 2018.